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Friday, October 05, 2007

Yvette Biro on Bela Tarr

notes on Yvette Biro's book "Le Temps au Cinéma / Turbulence and Flow" (2007), Chapter 7 : Odysseus.

Atemporal Time

About Satantango (1994)
"Nothing happens, but we feel that everything is determined from above or from away : human distress, petty hatred and suspicion dominate the rituals of fear, lie and vague attempt to escape."
She uses an interesting term : the intertwined fabric of this human "vegetation".
"Everyone is overwhelmed by the weight of an existence drowned in mud and destined to a hopeless wait, as if they were devoured by the village itself. (...) Each gesture takes an infinite time to be accomplished. (...) Tarr's characters are never conscious of their conditions they drag themselves blindly to the next move, then fall down again suddenly and lose themselves in their quagmire."
"Where nothing moves, reign deafness. (...) In fact, only the vegetative daily life and the lancinate desire to run far away exist. Slowness is a mark of a dead ended stillness for such underground existences. (...) Everything seems to have to last eternally, until exhaustion, without any pleasure. Will is not at fault, it's the repressed instincts, the unconscious to be blamed."
"The strength of their destiny lies in fine inescapable fatality : downfall. (...) Long time ago did they quit this ordinary world, living now in a God forsaken no man's land. Even the awareness of a possible ending to all this is helpless, because the Present doesn't exist, only exists the unbearable infinity of existence."
She talks about the metaphor contained in Satantango's opening sequence. Nothing seems to be happening as the camera circles around the cattle, yet menace is palpable, solely underlined by the monotony and silence.

"Tarr's characters live in a prison without walls, in an opened cage sitting in a perfectly uniform space, overwhelmed by the weight of an immobile time. This neverending rain is time itself (homogeneous texture). This pouring weather is not a punishment of Nature, it's as indifferent as vegetation. The location is nowhere and elsewhere. Time is heavy and atemporal.
It's not Hell, because the great suffering is missing. It's only a vegetative life where people get lost, emptied, shrunk and drowned in the void left out by life."

Here I would like to quote a Charles Baudelaire's poem from Les Fleurs du Mal / Flowers of Evil (1857), entitled Spleen (LXXVIII) :
Spleen

Quand le ciel bas et lourd pèse comme un couvercle
Sur l'esprit gémissant en proie aux longs ennuis,
Et que de l'horizon embrassant tout le cercle
Il nous verse un jour noir plus triste que les nuits;

Quand la terre est changée en un cachot humide,
Où l'Espérance, comme une chauve-souris,
S'en va battant les murs de son aile timide
Et se cognant la tête à des plafonds pourris;

Quand la pluie étalant ses immenses traînées
D'une vaste prison imite les barreaux,
Et qu'un peuple muet d'infâmes araignées
Vient tendre ses filets au fond de nos cerveaux,

Des cloches tout à coup sautent avec furie
Et lancent vers le ciel un affreux hurlement,
Ainsi que des esprits errants et sans patrie
Qui se mettent à geindre opiniâtrement.

- Et de longs corbillards, sans tambours ni musique,
Défilent lentement dans mon âme; l'Espoir,
Vaincu, pleure, et l'Angoisse atroce, despotique,
Sur mon crâne incliné plante son drapeau noir.
I wonder if anybody asked Bela Tarr if he has read this poem, which seems to be a perfect encapsulation of his 7h15' long film.

Yvette Biro also mentions that Tarr only uses two lenses, two frame scales, either the extreme close up on faces, and the wide shot, contextualizing the environment and distancing the characters. Both associated with long takes.
"This device allows the elimination of all concrete and realistic descriptions"

"Tarkovsky is solemn, Tarr is the exact opposite : viscerally natural and voluntarily close to matter. (...) Minimalism leads to eternal recommencement, back to the origins, grounded to something concrete, earthly, without direct metaphysical perspective. (...) when conscience dies, there is neither memory nor effort possible. Intention is replaced by a distentio, dilatation and an extension inexorable of time."

About Werckmeister Harmonies (2001)

"Werckmeister Harmonies creates a unique atmosphere, which thus repeated will attain an ever growning degree of intensity through accumulation. the rhythm, although monotonous, produces an impression of crescendo. Time only moves vertically, downward, with an always greater tension."
"The rhythm is constructed based on restraint. Everything has its proper rhythm, nothing can be hurried nor slowed down. When violence or an action stops it out of exhaustion or the consequence of a natural phenomenon."

Bela Tarr about Werckmeister Harmonies :

"To me, making films essentially consists in dealing with time and with space, and to install some human figures in there. (...) I reason based on mathematical coordinates. Something happens on the vertical axis and something on the horizontal axis. Thus, space and time end up intersecting (...) What's important is what is going on with the framework of this defined temporal unity. (...)
It's not real time, even if I want to give this impression. To us, real time doesn't equate to simple reality, one that simply passes by."

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